Assigning grades to television episodes is such a weird and wooly endeavor. Grading things is so much fun and can spark such interesting debates on its own that it’ll always be worth doing, but with serialized television shows, it gets really difficult to do because you’re evaluating the parts before you know what the whole looks like. I’m bumping up against the limitations of the format this week, because I’m giving a better grade to this week’s hour of Shameless than I gave to last week’s, even though I think that was the much better hour of television.
I teetered towards both ends of the B-spectrum throughout “The Legend Of Bonnie And Carl,” but it was ultimately the tonal imbalance that left me cold. “Liver, I Hardly Know Her” is blander and feels more cobbled together. But I enjoyed the experience of watching it more, and I felt better about it when it ended. Perhaps what left me on a higher note about “Liver” is that it seemed to signal, at last, something approaching a reset for Fiona after her epic decline. As I mentioned last week, I appreciate how methodically the writers have executed Fiona’s story this season, but it has started to become emotionally draining and a bit dull.
“Liver” was visually arresting, with handsome direction by Chris Chulack, which also helped with what was often a lumpy, misshapen episode. To be fair, there was no way to make this episode match the rhythm of a typical Shameless episode, because this is the first episode that essentially sidelines Fiona. After going to Robbie’s place to yell at him for ruining her life, Fiona apparently decides to let him make it up to her by allowing her to party all night with his street urchin crew. With that as a starting point, I expected more agony with Fiona as she faced the consequences for going missing on parole.
But to my surprise, the episode makes Fiona the Frank, the drunk who goes missing on a bender leaving the rest of the family to run a search and rescue mission. The scene between Lip, Debbie, and Ian as they talked through a plan on how to track down Fiona—the type of mission on which Fiona would typically run point—was one of the most refreshing scenes Shameless has done all season. It was a punchy and novel combination of the show’s most familiar characters.
Carl gets a mission of his own, and his new girlfriend Bonnie jacks and hotwires a car to drive him to hospitals to look for Fiona. Carl is a character I always struggle with. Carl can be a lot of fun, and when the writers give him a dramatic beat, Ethan Cutkosky can usually land it. But his violent and sociopathic tendencies often come off more icky than outrageous or fun. Carl’s devotion to Frank has always been the element that sands down the character’s rough edges, but that element has vanished now that Sammi has wrested away control of Frank’s daily care. The addition of Bonnie is working for me as a replacement, and Carl’s moments with her as he dealt with Frank’s impending death shaded in the character for me.
But too much of “Liver” felt like running in place before the season’s final two episodes. Fiona is still at the bottom of an awfully deep well, Ian is still manic, Frank is still approaching death, and Lip is still struggling to balance his academic load and his family obligations. For an episode that features the birth of twins and a regular character’s liver being taken, it never felt as exciting as it could have with the essential dynamics staying right about where they were.
I’m also not crazy about anything Sheila is doing these days. The big issue with Sheila this season is that her character is being used as a tool to push the story in this direction or that one, and Sheila doesn’t seem to have much to do on her own. The Roger Running Tree stuff that has defined the season for Sheila has now yielded two things: Frank getting inside a makeshift sweat lodge and being rushed to the hospital to get his grim prognosis, and now Frank getting his kidney stolen, enabling him to get bumped up the list for a liver somehow. And the purpose of all this is to adopt Roger Running Tree’s irritating kids?
The bright side of “Liver” was the feeling of finally approaching a corner for Fiona. She’s not turning the corner; that will take a lot more time. But at long last, Fiona appears to have hit rock bottom and is finally ready to turn things around. At least, that’s what I got from Fiona’s simple, unadorned apology to Lip as she sat stranded outside a gas station in Sheboygan, and from Lip’s reaction to it. Lip has spent a good chunk of this season furious with Fiona with plenty good reason. This was a different moment, and it seemed as though Lip really understood what a hard time his sister is having right now. He didn’t want to lecture her, he didn’t want to flip out, and he didn’t want to see her feel any lower. He just wanted to be there for his sister.
“Liver” felt a little slight, considering there are only two episodes left. Given Shameless’ tendency toward quirky rhythms for its seasons, it’ll be interesting to see where these final episodes go.
- Sheila to Chucky: “Let Mommy do her drug deal.”
- Kevin wanted to name one of the twins Xeniqua.
- Debbie and Carl’s speeches to Frank on his deathbed were really terrific.
- Mickey wants to kill Kevin now? All of that was so abrupt and unwelcome. I need that plot extinguished immediately.
- Given that Frank’s whole surgery was a scam, the con men were pretty slick to have the “donor” pretend to back out at the last minute.